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by Bill Gibron

10 Jun 2008


Introspection is key to an artist’s imagination. Reflecting life is one thing. Inspecting the inner existence is an equally important facet. In essence, it’s the ultimate expression of self, a sense of what makes a mind tick, a brain bubble, and a thought process percolate. In film, some of our greatest directors have made masterworks out of the creative core concept. Fellini gave us 8&1/2. Woody Allen offered Stardust Memories. David Lynch divined Mulholland Dr.  And now Giuseppe Andrews steps behind his wholly independent lens to give us a take on cinema, karma, movie history, and Hollywood phonies. Oddly enough, he draws a very interesting conclusion - It’s All Not So Tragic.

For film historian Greg Connor, things haven’t been going well. He’s had mental problems ever since the day he ruined his chance at being a DVD commentator. During the featurette for a favorite noir classic, he committed an unspeakable, unnatural act. Now his shrink is suggesting he take a small vacation to get away from it all. Running out of gas, Connor comes across a fallen crossing guard, a psychotic with a pick axe, a young lady named Distosia, who is studying to be part of a cult, one of his favorite soap stars, and a young man he once photographed in the nude. All of this leads to a kind of psychotic breakdown where Connor’s sexual dysfunction manifests itself in more and more bizarre ways. Eventually, there’s nothing left to do but dance and sing. Besides, life’s not too bad when you think about it.

Like a fever dream infected with rabies, or a Tinsel Town satire slathered in scatology, It’s All Not So Tragic takes some getting used to. Not in a bad way, mind you, but unlike previous offerings from America’s trailer park Godard, this narrative is so knotty it tends to cannibalize and consumer itself. What begins as a simple road trip, a chance for one messed up man to escape the demons that force him onto the couch and into the bottle, turns into a freak show Ferris Wheel, the next turn of the tale offering up increasingly disconnected delirium. Naturally, sex plays a major part in the plotline, but this time around its more violent and ‘self abusive’. The end result is a film that challenges the conventions created by Andrews and his anarchic mobile hominess. Instead, we witness one man’s tenuous grip on reality slowly draining down his pants’ leg and into the sewer.

Of course, there are obvious targets. Daytime dramas get skewered as our hero sits back and enjoys a shower-oriented scene from his favorite serial As the World Spins. The writing and realization of this sequence is so spot on it mandates its own movie. Similarly, Andrews’ regular Marybeth Spychalski shows up as a brainwashed religious cult chick, clamoring for the very Scientology like “Wolancoism” belief system. Her conversations with star Miles David Dougal are classic in their crackpot philosophizing. Elsewhere, DVDs get a slamdance stake through their bonus feature hearts, our lead longing to be legitimized by placement as part of the format’s added content. Even soap box racers (and those put in charge of maintaining traffic safety for said cardboard cars) get skewered. Andrews is amazing in this way. Just when you think he’s covered all the narrative possibilities, he finds more fodder for his unsettled cinema.

Not so clear is the motivation behind the last act montages. Since he loves music as much as film (his CDs are well worth picking up - they contain a wealth of equally eccentric sonic sensationalism), Andrews presents a series of songs interspersed with a clown satisfying himself with a vacuum cleaner and a collection of seemingly unconnected clips. But deep thinking reveals some clues. Early on, it appears that every time something sinister is about to happen to our hero, someone appears from out of the blue and blows the threat away with a handgun. Naturally, it seems nonsensical at first, until you apply the motion picture standard by which violence - and most specifically, gun violence - solves most problems. In that regard, Connor’s various packing saviors appear practically sane. The sudden dive into song and dance could clearly be a reflection of the old school Hollywood-ism that any depressive down time can be “cured” with a little celluloid whimsy. Here Andrews’ amazing muse provides the perfect antidote to the main character’s descent into debauchery and delusion.

While star Dougal redefines the concept of a tour de force, the rest of the writer/director’s standard company gets reduced to extended cameos. The venerable Vietnam Ron plays an unhinged stalker, while Sir George Bigfoot travels around with a suitcase full of cockroaches. Guitar wizard Ed stands in for the dome doc, while Walt Dongo plays a pissed off member of the Walancoism sect. Noticeably absent this time around are Karen Bo Baron (star of Andrews’ masterful Orzo) and that queen of the ancient art of the flapjack dance, Elaine Bongos. Their peculiarly endearing presence is always missed. Thankfully, our filmmaker finds ways to substitute and persevere.

That he continues to grow as an artist is no surprise - true talent finds a way to flourish, instead of stagnating and straining - but how this amazing auteur channels his creativity is what continues to make his movies so amazing. Giuseppe Andrews has an oeuvre now that far surpasses many who maintain a place in the hallowed halls of cinema’s standard bearers. For what he’s done in expanding the realm of homemade moviemaking, for providing a voice to the disenfranchised and the routinely marginalized, for locating brilliance where others would see idiosyncrasy, hopelessness, and despair, he becomes the most independent of true icons. He also remains the most staunchly original voice working along the fringes of the artform today. It’s All Not So Tragic continues to prove his place among the true creative champions.

by Bill Gibron

9 Jun 2008


Universal Unveils Yet Another Inspirational Sports Film

According to the press release, The Express (coming 3 October) is “Based on the true story of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African- American to win the Heisman Trophy. His fight for equality and respect forever changed the face of American sports, and his story continues to inspire new generations.”  The film will star Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown. Here are some early photos:



Weinsteins Wants You to Channel Your Inner Igor

In connection with their upcoming animated film, the Weinstein Company offers you the opportunity to put on your best “Igor” impression. Winners will have their voice added to the final film, expected sometime this fall. More information can be found here.




Disaster Movie gets a Pair of Teaser Posters
After consistently devaluing the big screen spoof with their increasingly sophomoric efforts, the writing/directing team of Jason Friedbeg and Aaron Seltzer are back with another parody. Oddly enough, they seem to be taking the genre right back to where it started - the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker classic Airplane!, which was, after all, a lampoon of disaster films.

Jumper to Become a Franchise - from IMDb
According to WENN and the Internet Movie Database, Actor Hayden Christensen is set to return to the developing Jumper franchise for a further two movies. The new DVD coming out today confirms the plans to create a trilogy for the solid sci-fi hit. According to the actor, “We’re talking about it. I know that they’re having those conversations, I hear about them. It was set up to become that - a trilogy - if it did well. And I think they’re happy with how it did so they want to make another one. But I don’t think they’re rushing to get into production.”


Sam Raimi Wants Spider-Man 4 - from IGN
Apparently, the stories about Raimi being less involved in the future of the Spider-man franchise were wrong, or maybe the director of the three previous popcorn smashes is indulging in a little wishful thinking. Whatever the case, you can read his thoughts about the fourth go round for the webslinger here.




MPAA Pulls Plug on Kevin Smith’s Porno Promo - from /Film
Just last week, we noted that the Clerks auteur had released a Red Band teaser for his upcoming comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Well, apparently Quick Stop Entertainment, Smith’s internet locale, didn’t get permission from the MPAA to “broadcast” such content across the web. The whole stink gets aired out over at SlashFilm.com.


My Fair Lady Getting a Remake - from Variety
From the official press release:
Considering the talent involved the first time around, it seems hard to imagine that anyone would seriously consider remaking this Oscar winning effort. Still, producers Cameron Mackintosh and Duncan Kenworthy are convinced they can “update” the material by adding more of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to Alan Jay Lerner’s musical book. Initial reports had Keira Knightley and Daniel Day Lewis as the new Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, but with the There Will Be Blood star hopping projects for the big screen version of Nine, casting remains unclear. Read more here.


DiCaprio to Produce/Star in Atari Story - from THR.com
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio plans on bringing the story of ‘70/‘80s video game giant Atari to the big screen. Writers Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman hope the star will play Nolan Bushnell, engineering student and computer geek who went from fixing broken pinball machines to creating the company responsible for the first major arcade game - Pong. The rest of the story can be found here.




DVD releases of Note for 10 June
Be Kind Rewind
The Bucket List
Funny Games (2008)
Invisible Target - Read the SE&L Review Here
John Adams: The HBO Mini-Series
Jumper
The Other Boleyn Girl
Witless Protection


Box Office Figures for Weekend of 6 June

#1 - Kung Fun Panda: $59.8 million
#2 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $40.3 million
#3 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $22.9 million
#4 - Sex and the City: $21.3 million
#5 - The Strangers: $9.2 million
#6 - Iron Man: $7.4 million
#7 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $5.5 million
#8 - What Happens in Vegas: $3.4 million
#9 - Baby Mama: $2.2 million
#10 - Made of Honor: $2.0 million


Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
The Incredible Hulk - Bruce Banner searches for a cure to his raging inner ‘demon’ while the Army plots to use his power as a weapon. With Edward Norton and Tim Roth. Rated PG-13
The Happening - A sudden, unseen epidemic causes innocent citizens to kill themselves in startling violent ways. It’s up to the survivors to figure out why. From M. Night Shyamalan. Rated R

Limited
Quid Pro Quo - With comparisons to David Cronenberg’s Crash, a young reporter, paralyzed after an accident, discovers a subculture of fetishists. Rated R
Baghead - a group of independent filmmakers head out into the woods to brainstorm a script. They are instead terrorized by a stranger in a bag. Rated R

by Bill Gibron

9 Jun 2008


It’s true: you either “get” what Ang Lee did to the Hulk or you don’t. It’s not a “love it or hate” it kind of quandary. It’s much more of a “yes” or “no” proposition. If you are used to the Raimi ideal of comic book moviemaking or think that Bryan Singer got the X down to a simple science, then avoid this movie at all costs, and chalk up the big green monster man to yet another misguided attempt by Hollywood to bring the graphic novel to life. But if it clicks for you, if you stick with it, buy into the premise and the way director Lee presents it, Hulk will stay with you for days after you’ve watched it. It will be the first superhero action film that actually says something profound about parental relationships, the untapped power of emotion, and the struggle for self-control.

The nature of the Hulk has always been described as the out of control id of Bruce Banner’s mild-mannered scientist nerd. The original origins for the character were steeped in repressed memories and parental abuse. Lee magnifies this concept, wanting to fully explore all aspects of it, to make the beast not only the representation of the human mind, but also the true physical interpretation of it. Most fans of fast action cartoon chaos claim Lee missed his chance to make the monster of all cartoon films. They lament how he instead focused all the fun into a dry, dreary drama revolving around Bruce Banner’s childhood and the genetic experimentation that physically mutated him and the emotional trauma that mentally manipulated him.

And still there were those who wept for that forgotten foe in the standard comic film canon, the arch villain, a Joker/Magneto/Green Goblin of equal energy and emergence. But in Lee’s marvel universe, there isn’t one. All the bad guy vibe lands on the shoulders of Bruce’s father, which means that we must deal with Banner the son/man first and Banner the CGI beast secondary. And for most fans of carefree eye candy blockbusters, individualized character studies and special effects fantasy just do not mix, nor should anyone try.

It’s the more human issues in Hulk (interesting how Lee chose to skip both the “Incredible” tag and the impersonal pronoun as well) that Lee wants to focus on. If the idea of massive back story and flashbacks o’plenty make your stomach seize, or if you really wish the actors would just shut up and fight/blow something up, this movie will not be a pleasant ride for you. Lee is striving for something deeper here, something more philosophical and universal. He wants to tap into that time-tested relationship between parent and child and work its intense Freudian fire into an inferno of pent-up rage. Hulk is meant to be a release of that rage, to show how failures on the part of our guardians result in destructive behavior.

This is not some subtle, cinematically created symbolism. This was the basis for another Lee’s - Stan Lee’s - desire in crafting the original character. The genius of the Hulk as an entity is that he is indeed us, fueled at the genetic level by trauma and terror and overblown into a destructive force that must be reckoned with. It’s intriguing to note how there is not a real revelatory arc to the Hulk’s development. At one moment, Bruce Banner is a normal human being. The next he is an outraged giant with an even larger, deadlier chip on his behemoth shoulders.

The transformation of the psychological into the physiological is at the heart of Hulk as a character and Hulk as a movie. The entire film is actually about our biological and emotional heritage, about how our bodily chemistry and interpersonal lineage, become the reason for who we are. Unlike the comic book version, this Hulk was a fiend just waiting to be forged. Daddy Banner’s experiments and the unfortunate ramifications are just a more modern, less meat-fisted way of handling the humongous’ foundation. In Stan Lee’s comic book world, Bruce is escaping an abusively alcoholic and murderous father. In Ang Lee’s world, David Banner is DNA destiny, the reason why Bruce is who he is at the molecular as well as the persona level.

This one-two punch makes the movie Hulk a far more complex, preordained brute. The notion of not being able to control one’s own providence is a fear that most offspring have, and Hulk blows it up into a big green overtly violent twisted mass of muscle without the ability to properly control itself; again, another part of the panic of growing up. True, we all aren’t worried about growing thirty feet in every direction and raging without rhyme or reason, but we do concern ourselves with the notion that our past controls our present and future and we are unable to keep it from happening.

This is, perhaps, why Hulk does not resonate with the standard blockbuster audience: the teenage boy. As the unbearable kings of the planet, they have yet to figure out how their past and their father figure (or lack thereof) has influenced their life. To them, Hulk should be about smashing and bashing. He should not be a reflection of a youth unfulfilled or a life filled with empty pain. So this is really the first adult action film, a movie that uses a unique cinematic style and obvious operatic tendencies to invoke more than tell its tale. Indeed, there is not a lot of mood swinging going on in this film. Lee gives us emotional archetypes versus real three-dimensional people.

Thankfully, all this deep-seeded child rearing rhetoric is couched in a wonderfully visual and abstractly arresting set of moviemaking ideals. There are those who find Ang Lee’s choices suspect and/or even irritating. He uses more split screen sequences than Brian De Palma has ever fantasized over and loves to overlap shots to give us multiple “every conceivable angle” opportunities. It helps to propel the narrative over the deeply bruised sequences of psyche in somersault and shows us that someone can literally take the structure of a comic book, apply it to the movies, and make it work.

As a CGI creation, the Hulk himself seems one shadow and character crafting computer map pass away from being the most amazing digital creation ever. It appears that, after the success of Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the computer-generated imagists at ILM just can’t quite figure out how to make something not look fake. While this may seem like an oxymoron, the completely green, oversized giant never once looks natural or “human” enough. He is overly detailed, all carefully placed ripples and dirt. We never get the full effect of the Hulk being flawed or part of his environment. Instead, we can see the environment conforming to him, with tanks and planes and houses becoming more “cartoon” like to fit in to what the Hulk has in mind.

No place is this more abundantly clear than in the much-discussed ‘Hulk Dogs’ sequence. While overall it’s a very well done action scene (what else would you expect from the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?), the oversized mutts look Scooby-Doo awful. They don’t appear as genetically altered hounds; they’re animated cartoon monsters in puppy suits that look phony from the minute the binary spit flies from their flapping jowls. What many computer artists forget is that they are supposed to be rendering the unreal real, not crafting perfectly painted practicality. For all his accurate body movement and incredible facial gesturing, more times than not the Hulk just looks like a well-painted drawing.

Thankfully, the depth of symbolism and the sheer cinematic artistry of Ang Lee keep Hulk afloat. Yes, the movie is too long and the effects are not always special, but what this Lee does is prove the Stan Lee thesis of Marvel’s best comic creations. It was the elder Lee’s belief that the best entertainment came out of the personalities and storylines, not fancy ink sketches. Hollywood, in turn, definitely lives by the bright lights, pretty colors theory of superhero movies. Details just get in the way of the next attractive explosion or the fast food tie-in moment. Hulk is a good movie burdened by expectations it could never meet and limitations that couldn’t be overcome. It is an effective denouncement of the parent/child relationship, of the basic progeny’s fear that we will grow up under the direct influence of our parents, almost to the point of pinpoint replication.

Bruce Banner’s problem is that, if he indeed matures exactly like his father, there is truly no hope for mankind. In order to survive, he will have to come to terms with what he is, and how he can manage it - if ever. Actually, this critic predicts that ten years from now, Hulk will be viewed as way ahead of its time in grappling with subjects that something like X-Men only skims over or Spider-Man avoids altogether. With a push to give every bi-monthly name a cinematic incarnation of its own (and even the revisiting of some previous franchise presentations), Hulk is destined to get lost. But wipe the blockbuster mentality from your perception and view this film again. Perhaps you’ll see an excellent exploration of human nature wrapped inside a thick green shell.

by Bill Gibron

8 Jun 2008


Action films are forged out of some very tenuous threads, each one required to carry its own weight while intricately balancing the needs of the other ingredients. They can certainly be crafted after a formula, years of practice guaranteeing that once all the elements are in place, something viable will result. Those who try to stretch or even break the mold are destined to either fail, or fracture and reconstruct the cinematic blueprint, revising the standard for the next generation of artists to come. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being really, really good at what the basics already provide, and this would describe the Hong Kong thriller Invisible Target rather well;. Now out on DVD from Dragon Dynasty, Genius Products and the Weinstein Company, this film is not out to redefine the genre. Instead, it wants to perfect it, and does so magnificently.

After an armored car explosion robs Fong Yik Wei of his fiancé, the policeman becomes a broken man. Six months later, his unpredictable nature has made him a law enforcement disadvantage. It’s the same with Detective Chan Chun. He’s so caught up in capturing a gang of international mercenaries that he can’t see the connection to Wei’s situation. It takes a chance meeting with rookie officer Wai King Ho to bring the cases together. Looking for his missing brother, who went undercover years ago and never came back, this department newbie sees only one course of action - a by-the-book belief in the rules. But when the self-described Ronin Gang reveals that they have someone on the inside helping them out, our trio will stop at nothing to discover the turncoat, and stop leader Tien Yeng Seng in his quest for death, destruction, and millions in cash.

Like a primer on how to proficiently kick, punch, fire, slash, and in general blow stuff up, Invisible Target is one of the best bombastic macho man movies that Hollywood never made. It’s Die Hard with an Asian accent, The Departed taken back to its Infernal Affairs origins and draped in thousands of glass shards and bullet holes. Director Benny Chan, best known for working with Hong Kong icon Jackie Chan on later day vehicles such as Robin-B-Hood, Who Am I, and New Police Story, takes a page out of the Western gonzo guidebook and delivers the kind of electrifying mayhem that has defined the shoot ‘em up since Arnold was just a bodybuilder. We are introduced to the customary good/bad dynamic, have the archetypes peppered with competing motives, lash everything together with a few of the deadly sins, and send it all careening into crowded streets and highly populated locales.

Chan certainly knows his references. There are lashings of John Woo here, the kind of emotional underpinning crucial to the slo-mo masters thrill ride successes. Of course, when we see a last act stand off in a massive office building, innocents locked in with the villains for the ultimate standoff, it’s hard not to think of Chow-Yuen Fat kicking ass in Hard Boiled. Similarly, our Asian auteur channels the Paul Verhoeven school of window shattering. No fight is complete without panes being pulverized into hundreds of chaotic crystals. It’s so deliberate that a drinking game could come of it. When you add in the excellent chases, both on foot and via automobile, it is clear that we are witnessing a solid cinematic eye with an easy ability to keep our heart racing and our eyes glued to the screen.

The superb actors help out immensely. As our seasoned and soured officers, Nicholas Tse and Shawn Yue are a couple of confident bastards. They play both sides of the law to their own ends, and come across as equally belligerent and highly vulnerable. Both must face demons bent on destroying their pursuit of justice, and each one handles said clash in a differing yet dramatic manner. It also helps that both men are adept in the major martial arts. It really aids in selling the numerous fight scenes. Similarly, Jaycee Chan (son of Jackie) does a wonderful job with a rather thankless third wheel role. He’s the voice of naïve reason among the back biting and double crossing of the Hong Kong police force, and his last act redemption is a bit too maudlin for the material. It definitely works, but the feelings seem strained and unearned.

Perhaps the biggest revelation, especially for those of us unfamiliar with his entire career arc, is the twisted turn by Jacky Wu. Playing the most malevolent of mobsters, here is a man unafraid of killing and quite capable of any act to maintain his power and position. It’s important to note that Tien Yeng Seng’s gang has only one purpose - the mindless pursuit of money - and it is clear that they are capable of anything…ANYTHING...to get it. Invisible Target is the kind of movie where children are visibly threatened, unarmed men are mowed down in cold blood, and pain is inflicted randomly and without warrant. And it is Wu doing most of the dirty work. While he is surrounded by a barely distinguishable group of gangsters, it is clear who holds the reigns in this racket.

With the simple storyline and two hour plus running time, director Chan is allowed to mine both the sentimental and the stunt. Make no mistake, this is some brutal stuff. The second disc of this two DVD set offers many in the cast talking about their participation, and more often than not, the grueling action and physical preparation for the fight scenes dominate the discussion. Wu, Yue, and Tse seem particularly interested in dishing the dirt about long days in training and long nights knocking each other out. Even better, the bonus featurettes explain how some of the more dangerous bits were created and captured. There are times in this movie when actors tumble down buildings, jump across rooftops, run into passing cars, and escape optically oversized explosions. While there is some CG trickery involved, many actual man hours were used to achieve the engaging ends.

Indeed, if you don’t expect the latest redefinition of the action epic, Invisible Target will warm you in a wonderfully old school manner. It takes its time getting started, develops its situations and characters fully, and then never lets up once the pedal is put to the edge of your seat metal. There is enough visual spectacle present to satisfy even the most fastidious film fan, and Chan definitely knows his way around the Hong Kong locales. Sometimes, getting the basics 100% right is much better than merely trying to reinvent what’s tried and true. That’s clearly the case with this on ‘Target’ title.

by Bill Gibron

7 Jun 2008


For a while, it seemed like the rumors would turn out to be true. Months of speculation had concluded that Troma, the independent titan responsible for such memorable cult classics as The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet was on the verge of closing its doors forever. The production company, now largely in the business of distributing films produced outside their umbrella, had sunk all its cash into the demented zombie comedy Poultrygeist, and the lack of legitimate support from theater owners was driving founder Lloyd Kaufman and crew to the point of bankruptcy. There were even stories that inventory was being sold off and the main offices moved to the more “financially friendly” confines of New Jersey, the last desperate gasp of a business barely afloat.

Well, apparently, the gossip got it wrong. Sure, Troma left its Manhattan digs to travel over to the shores of its notorious neighbor, but this was done out of bold face necessity. Landlords raised their rent by a ridiculous amount, and there was no way the company could compete under such lend/lease larceny. Similarly, the lack of available product had nothing to do with a frantic fire sale. Instead, the business model mandated the push for Poultrygeist before unleashing another slew of digital delights. This past April saw the label finally return from the DVD dead, offering up the ganja goof Pot Zombies, and just last month, two more treats were unleashed on unsuspecting audiences everywhere. And just like other items in the cockeyed catalog, Bloodspit and Belcebu: Diablos Lesbos prove why, when it comes to sensational schlock, no one tops Troma.

Oddly enough, both movies come from outside the US. Australia is the setting for the story of a long dead vampire, back from the dead and desperate to retrieve a magical coat of arms. With the brand, the aging neckbiter can return to the land of mirrors (otherwise known as “Mirrorland”) and rejuvenate. While waiting to reclaim his birthright, he spends his off hours sexing it up with the hired help. Of course, his main nemesis, the wheelchair bound Dr. Ludvic, has discovered the power inherent in the tacky talisman, and the mad medico intends to use it to destroy the crafty Count Blaughspich (aka “Bloodspit”) once and for all - that is, if the demon’s wantonly wicked sister doesn’t stop him beforehand.

Spain is our next exotic location, and outside Madrid we meet up with a band of unhappy hookers. When heroin addict Mani gets involved in a robbery turned fatal, she spends time in prison. Upon release, she returns to her sex for sale ways. Meanwhile, her former boyfriend, a rocker named Toni, has magically transformed into Belcebu - a death metal menace whose unwieldy popularity has led to fan suicides and public censure. Hoping to find the sister - and sense of purpose - she left with the musician, Mani reconnects with him. Of course, by this time, Belcebu has successfully sold himself to the Devil. In return, he must make an annual sacrifice to the mangoat, and his ex may be the ritual’s main stage star.

As is typical with Troma, both of these movies are under the radar remnants of a DIY ethos that has long since stopped being practical within the artform. Sure, the current technology allows almost anyone to make their own damn movie (and even better, distribute it in a professional manner), yet when you watch either effort offered here, you get the distinct feeling of the personal passion the filmmakers had for their project more than any major moneymaking ideal. This is clearly the case with Bloodspit, which seems to be celebrating every outrageous horror spoof made in the last 20 years. Director Duke Hendrix, who co-wrote the wacky wayback weirdness with partner Leon Fish, fashions a kind of John Waters look at European exploitation, a movie with as much atmosphere as comic anarchy - and twice the tasteless tawdriness.

Drawing on sources as surreal as The Addams Family, Nosferatu, the typical Dracula dynamic and what appears to be the films of Chris Seaver, Hendrix and Fish proffer nonstop laughs, some wonderfully ridiculous characters, and more than a little unnatural skin. The ladies hired by the duo to do their flesh flashing dirty work give a new meaning to the word ‘dive bar’, yet they fit in perfectly with the pair’s aesthetic. Certainly, the level of toilet humor and dirty double entendre will remind one of the LBP universe. There are trips to the toilet bowl and graphic descriptions of human (and monster) genitalia, the whole thing reeking of middle schoolers mocking each others physical inadequacies. Hendrix and Fish also love accents. Between the Scots, the Brits, the Slavic and the just plain undecipherable, we are treated to a literal UN of vocal lunacy.

And yet thanks to the directorial style implied, an odd angle approach that utilizes the language of film as much as the dialogue of debauchery to get its point across, Bloodspit becomes a minor masterwork. Sure, it looses its bearings halfway through, demanding that the actors actually lift the narrative back on track, and if you’ve seen one Aussie stripper in her skivvies, reminding everyone that personal grooming and nutrition are actually GOOD things, but for the most part, this movie is terrifically entertaining. You can tell that Hendrix and Fish know their local lore. Peter Jackson and his pre-Rings gross out glory spews from every psycho shock sequence, and thanks to the ultra-low budget, imagination takes the place of production value. With pitch perfect performances from everyone involved, and a gamey grindhouse ideal at work, this is one incredibly infectious entertainment.

As silly as Bloodspit is, Belcebu is the exact opposite. This is a foreign film than takes itself far more seriously. Sure, there is a slightly satiric tone to the material, a Rosemary’s Baby like look at how the Devil controls all aspects of business and popular culture, but the real message behind Sergio Blasco’s self styled vanity project is that a life devoted to sex, drugs, and rock and roll can only lead to misery, addiction, and death. Starting off as a complicated character study before careening wildly over into pornography and a last act orgy of desecration and dismemberment, the writer/director/star accomplishes something quite rare. He makes us believe in the freakish and unfathomable while staying true to the blasphemous nature of the beliefs he is channeling. This is not your typical Satanic romp. Blasco really delves deep into the entire Black Mass basics.

Of course, we have to wade through Mani’s initial fall from grace, and there are times when Belcebu seems more interested in the life of a low rent hooker than dealing with its literal demons. The rock star storyline is frequently shuttled to the back so we can see our heroine shooting up, strung out, or slagging off. There are even moments reminiscent of Mamma Roma, when the local prostitutes hang out and trade secrets and safety tips. Blasco creates a real sense of community for his Spanish skanks, and it helps establish a tone of authenticity that supports the slam dunk surrealism to come. Indeed, once the professional cameraman Angel arrives on the scene, his oddball reaction to sex signifying that something is wrong with his supposedly straight machismo, we sense Belcebu beginning its turn. Sure enough, within seconds, Mani is a memory and its all soft core shuck and underworld jive.

Blasco looks the part of a long haired metal head, delivering his doom and gloom bombast in a manner that reflects every outsider rock act endlessly touring the club concert circuit. He lends his movie a real sense of scope. Similarly, the F/X work is very effective, gory and gruesome in that always welcome return to the practical and physical side of splatter. There are some sensational kills here, including a Cannibal Holocaust homage where a female victim is literally skewered from crotch to cranium, the massive pole then used as a statue for the rest of the dark ritual. There’s even a little winged imp that adds some crazy comic relief amongst all the arterial spray. Some may feel that Belcebu takes too long to get to its blood soaked climax, and many will find the street walker sequences to be dour and depressing. But the end result is something unique and totally of its own accord - a true indicator of what Troma tries to bring to all of its releases.

As for the DVDs themselves, nothing much has changed. The tech specs are uniformly good, the audio and video neither horribly misguided nor reference quality. It’s always a treat to see Kaufman do his patented proto-pervert act during his pre-feature introductions, and here he provides two classic examples of his extremism. For Bloodspit, the Tro-man is ensconced on the throne, doing his ‘duty’ to support the film. For Belcebu, it’s a Spanish language send-up complete with very un-PC pronouncements from his female co-hosts. As for extras, there are interviews with Hendrix and Fish, some outtakes, and a Behind the Scenes discussion with Blasco that, sadly, is not subtitled. In addition, there are lots of corporate come-ons to keep you spending those hard earned dollars in the distributor’s direction.

But the most important part about the release of Bloodspit and Belcebu: Diablos Lesbos is that the creature feature carnival barker known as Troma is back in business. In another few weeks, two more titles will be featured, and long in development projects like the proposed Giuseppe Andrews box set may now actually see the light of day. And considering how amazing Poultrygeist actually is (read the review here), it’s clear that the company wasn’t merely spinning its excess cash wheels. For anyone wondering what happened to the formidable B-movie madhouse, the return to DVD distribution indicates that everything is fine in the feverish land of Tromaville. It’s a welcome return for devotees desperate for the diseased and the dopey

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Call For Papers: Celebrating Star Trek's 50th Anniversary

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"To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the hit franchise, PopMatters seeks submissions about Star Trek, including: the TV series, from The Original Series (TOS) to the highly anticipated 2017 new installment; the films, both the originals and the J.J. Abrams reboot; and ancillary materials such as novelizations, comic books, videogames, etc.

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